There are many ways to thrill an audience but one of the most difficult to pull off is the locked room mystery. Usually a person is either murdered or disappears from a room that is locked from within with no imaginable method to leave. As technology has advanced so has this genre. With Flightplan, the room becomes a huge jumbo jet in flight. Kyle Pratt (Jodi Foster) is a jet propulsion engineer whose latest job has taken her to Germany. While there her husband David (John Benjamin Hickey) has met an untimely demise falling from a rooftop. Most feel that David’s death was suicide. Kyle resists this notion preferring to belief that her husband was pushed to his death. Kyle is returning to the states on a jet she helped to design. David’s coffin is in the hold and their six year old daughter. Julia (Marlene Lawston) is dutifully besides her grieving mother. Exhausted, Kyle falls asleep with Julia next to her but when she awakes, the girl is gone. Not only is Julia missing but there is absolutely no evidence she was ever on board with her mother. Kyle’s initial reaction is almost rational. She looks through the plane for her daughter and when the girl is still not found she requests a chat with the pilot, Captain Rich (Sean Bean). He seems to go by the book and checks the passenger manifest only to discover the girl was not listed. After checking with the airport in Munich there is no record of Julia ever boarding the plane. Observing Kyle’s growing distress is Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), a federal air marshal assigned to the flight. He is afraid that Kyle’s increasing agitation will disrupt the flight especially when she states that a Middle Eastern passenger, Obaid ((Michael Irby), was spying on her apartment in Germany. As Kyle’s protective maternal instincts go into high gear she becomes progressively more frantic. The one flight attendant with even a glimmer of sympathy is Fiona (Erika Christensen) but that is not enough to support Kyle emotionally. Rich would like to believe Kyle but he is after all a man trained to believe the facts in front of his eyes and they clearly state the girl is not there and never was. Only Kyle’s intimate knowledge of the aircraft’s design provides any hope the mother will find her lost child.
As with most modern psychological thrillers the film is basically a three act play. The first act sets up the conflicts and side plots. The suspicious circumstances of David’s death combined with the apparent alterations of the passenger documentation. The second act is the sleuth phase, Kyle using her knowledge of the plane’s design in her desperate attempts to locate Julia. Where this film falls apart is in the all important third act, the resolution. While the clues are planted well throughout the story the ultimate connections try to be too subtle for its own good. The enjoyment in this genre is letting the audience piece together the clues and have a sense of satisfaction when the ultimate reveal is made. Here, the conclusion leaves too much not overtly answered. This is the kind of film that after you have seen it with some friends and are discussing it over coffee you question too much of the last third of the film. The whole scene with Obaid is directed to our collective post-911 fears, especially those concerning anything going on during a flight. This movie is like a roller coaster ride without that last big fall, a lot of anticipation without the satisfaction of a well honed climax. The fault of this film is in the writing not the performance or direction. It just doesn’t deliver right up to the end. It has the necessary ingredient, after all there is nothing like a mother protecting her child. It is just that only the first two thirds of the films works on the level promised.
There is no doubt that Jody Foster is one of the most influential and talented women in film today. She has the rare achievement of successfully transitioning from child actress to adult even taking time off for an Ivy League education. Over the decades that encompass her career she has redefined herself several times. Her latest incarnation is with roles exactly like this, the strong willed mother protecting her daughter. Like her role in the much better Panic Room she plays the mother as an intelligent woman, a reasonable woman pushed by circumstances beyond her control to unreasonable situations. Foster portrays Kyle in humanistic terms. While she can design a jet engine she is unable to do the most basic function of any mother, protect her child. This allows her to establish not only the external conflict afforded by the circumstances but an inner struggle. A less seasoned actress would not have been able to make the necessary emotional connection with the audience. Peter Sarsgaard does well as the wary air marshal. In this post-911 world that role has become the standard to represent authority on airplanes. Sarsgaard gives a good performance here, adding just the right touch mystery to the mix. Under used here is a talented young actress, Erika Christensen. Her role in Traffic demonstrated that she has talent to match her looks but here her abilities where given little to do. Sean Bean has the task of being the voice of reason amidst all the confusion. As the pilot he as to consider the big picture being concerned with the safety of over 400 passengers while trying to assist the frantic mother.
Germany director Robert Schwentke is making a good start moving from independent films to large budget productions such as this. He has an excellent sense of timing with translates to a realistic pacing of the story line. Schwentke allows the plot to thicken naturally pulling the audience in to the tale. He even does as well as possible with the weak writing of the ending. His use of camera angles helps to bring a claustrophobic feel to the piece, a difficult task considering the plain in question is huge. He brings the camera in tight, forcing the walls and ceiling to close in on the actors. Combined with Fosters performance this gives the growing sense of a mother trapped in a nightmare. Instead of being limited by the setting Schwentke uses it to full advantage.
Buena Vista holds to their usual excellent standards in bringing this thriller to DVD. The technical specifications are top notch. While this film is presented in separate pan & scan and widescreen video formats stick with the original aspect ratio and respect what the director wanted you to see. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is brilliantly presented. The color balance is excellent, among the best I have seen in awhile. The contrast is so good you can just about use it to set your television. There is a clear demarcation between light and shadow with no hint of distortion. The Dolby 5.1 audio is dynamic providing a full spectrum sound field. The rear speakers add a natural ambience to the sound while the sub woofer is used to give a nice lower frequency feel. There is a rather mundane commentary track that lacks a more personal touch. The prerequisite making of featurette is provided, titled ‘The In-Flight Movie’. Mostly it looks at the use of a set that duplicates a large aircraft and some of the interactions of cast and crew. Even though the ride falls short at the end the performances and direction make this film worth a viewing.